So you think your power steering pump might be shitting the bed? I can help you decide if that’s what’s really happening with your car. In this article, you’ll learn about the most common bad power steering pump symptoms.
There are generally three symptoms that mean your pump is on its way out:
- Power steering pump whine
- Steering wheel is hard to turn
- Power steering fluid leak
As with most car problems, diagnostics aren’t always straightforward. Each of these symptoms might mean something other than a bad power steering pump.
Let’s go into a little more detail on each and hopefully get you closer to solving the problem you’re having with your car.
Power Steering Pump Whine
If you’re hearing a power steering pump whine, it’s a pretty good indicator that your pump is on its way out.
You’ll generally hear it as soon as you start up your car. And when you turn your steering wheel in either direction, the noise will get louder.
Before you run out and buy a new power steering pump or make an appointment with your mechanic, you should first check your power steering fluid level. Low power steering fluid can also cause power steering pump whine.
How to check power steering fluid level
If you don’t know how to check your power steering steering fluid level, simply find your power steering fluid reservoir and take off the cap. There should be a dipstick on the cap that shows how much fluid you have.
Some cars might not use a dipstick and have a translucent fluid reservoir. You’ll be able to see your fluid level through the reservoir.
Note that the proper power steering fluid level fluctuates with the temperature of your car… So check your level accordingly. Your dipstick or fluid reservoir may have one line for cold and one for hot.
Location of the power steering fluid reservoir varies from car-to-car. If you’re not sure where it is, look for a fluid reservoir that has “Power Steering Fluid Only” on the cap. You could also reference your owner’s manual.
If your fluid is low, bring it up to the proper level and see if that helps. If topping off your fluid doesn’t get rid of the sound, you likely need a new power steering pump.
Let’s move on to the next bad power steering pump symptom:
Steering Wheel Hard to Turn
If your steering wheel is hard to turn, there’s a good chance your power steering pump is shot.
I don’t have a lot to say about this symptom. You’ll certainly know it when it happens! Your power steering pump helps A LOT with steering and you’ll miss it if it’s gone!
With a steering wheel that is hard to turn, there’s also a chance that other parts of your steering system are bad. So make sure you give the entire system an inspection before replacing the power steering pump.
A good way to verify that your power steering pump is bad is to carefully take a long screwdriver (or other long metal thing) and firmly press it against the power steering pump while the car is running. If you can feel vibration, it’s an indication that the pump is bad.
Power Steering Fluid Leak
The last thing on our list of bad power steering pump symptoms is a power steering fluid leak.
Power steering fluid is generally red… so if your car is leaving red fluid spots on the ground, take a look and find out where it is coming from.
While a power steering fluid leak is a symptom of a bad pump, the leak can be coming from another part of the system. You might have a bad hose or something wrong with your steering rack.
It’s important to pinpoint where the leak is coming from before you rip out your pump and replace it.
While we’re on the topic of ruling out other problems, I want to quickly touch on drive belts.
Most power steering pumps are powered by drive belts. Older cars used multiple drive belts. Newer cars generally use a single serpentine belt that powers multiple systems.
If you are experiencing any of these bad power steering pump symptoms, be sure to also inspect your power steering pump’s drive belt. It might be too loose, too tight, or your pulley might be mis-aligned.
Power Steering Pump Replacement Cost
So if it turns out your power steering pump is bad, what’s it going to cost to repair it?
As always, it all depends on your car, where you live, if you can DIY, etc.
Here’s some ballpark figures. A new power steering pump will generally cost between $100 and $300.
Labor will probably be somewhere around 2-3 hours. So depending on your mechanic’s labor rate, you’re looking at several hundred more dollars.
If you are a DIYer, replacing a power steering pump is a mid-level job. If your DIY skills are doing things like replacing wiper blades, replacing a bad power steering pump might be more than you can handle!
But if you’ve done lots of work on cars, you’ll know if this is a job you can handle.
The three main bad power steering pump symptoms are: power steering pump whine, a steering wheel that’s hard to turn, and a power steering fluid leak. If your car has any of these symptoms, spend a little time doing some deeper diagnostic work to rule out other causes and make sure it’s your power steering pump before doing a full replacement.
About the Author
Hi I’m Kevin and I’m a car guy. I first got the bug as a kid when I helped my dad rebuild the motor in his 1969 Mustang. I shadowed him for countless hours doing all kinds of hands-on work in the garage. As I got older, I started working on my own cars – from new transmissions to stereos to fine detailing. I started this website to share some of the things I’ve learned over the years.